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Yash Tiwari
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For years a small debate has been raging at the bottom of comedy circles about whether or not women are funny. Comedians often get interviewed and when they’re asked if there’s any truth to the old cliché “women aren’t funny” they will typically respond either something sarcastic along the lines of “no shit, you idiot,” or else some answer meant to put it to rest. The assumption then, is that women are simply choosing not to be funny, and for whatever reason, they’re choosing to opt-out of this whole ‘funny thing’ business. The implication being: if more women wanted to be funnier, they would succeed, as men just can’t help but be funny despite everything.

So why is it that women aren’t considered funny? We all know being a good writer isn’t an exclusively male attribute, so what is it about women that makes them less inclined to giving us a laugh? Is it just the lack of confidence in women, as told by Amy Poehler recently? Or are there societal pressures that exclude or inhibit humor in women? Women aren’t seen as funny because most of the time, they’re not being presented as funny. This was noticed years ago, by Adrienne Rich, in a famous essay called “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-vision.” Rich points out that, until recently, we thought stories were told one way: from a male hero’s point of view. Female characters were there to support the male character; they were sidekicks or support artists.

Regardless of these theories, humor is an interesting example of how deeply rooted gender biases are. We tend to now have people assuming that women can be just as funny as men, but it’s still not something that people will readily admit – the best way to test this is to ask a group of people whether they think women are funny. They may say “yes” without even thinking about it, and may even persuade themselves they believe it’s true. Maybe it’s because women are generally less aggressive. Aggression is more commonly associated with humor, so if you’re less aggressive you are less likely to be funny. It’s a bit of a misogynist theory though, and one that doesn’t usually stand up to much scrutiny.

The reality is that women ARE funny. Science says they’re funnier on some dimensions and that men are funnier on others. But this isn’t about anecdotal evidence or opinions or what you find funny; this is about perception and how it’s skewed so much that we start thinking a lie is a truth. It is pretty incontrovertible that women are both funny and not considered funny.